It’s only been mentioned peripherally, but starting last week, South Dakota has a brand new Public Utilities Commissioner. But it’s not an unfamiliar name to many of the state’s residents, as they’ve been voting for him for many years.
As a result of a conflict which caused Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen to have to take a step back from her duties, State Treasurer Rich Sattgast finds himself doing double duty this week as South Dakota’s newest Public Utilities Commissioner, although, he’s only doing so on a temporary basis.
Hearings for the proposed Dakota Access pipeline are taking place across South Dakota this week with Commissioner Sattgast seated at the table with permanent Commissioners Gary Hanson and Chris Nelson. The dual role came about as a result of Commissioner Kristie Fiegen formally informing Governor Daugaard in writing on January 8th of a conflict of interest she faced, disqualifying her from participating in the hearing.
In her letter, Fiegen noted:
I have recently been informed that the proposed pipeline would cross land owned by my sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) and her husband in the counties of McCook and Minnehaha. Pursuant to SDCL 49-1-9, a Public Utilities Commissioner may not participate in a proceeding in which the Commissioner has a conflict of interest. Given this familial relationship, I am regretfully disqualifying myself from participating in this proceeding.
As required by SDCL 49-1-9, I hereby certify that I am disqualifying myself from participating in this docket and request that you appoint an elected constitutional officer, other than the attorney general, as a member of the Commission in my place. In order to give notice of my disqualification, I am filing this letter in Docket HP 14-002.
As a result, this placed Governor Daugaard in the position of having to choose among the eligible constitutional officers, excepting Marty Jackley who serves as the state’s lawyer. Governor Daugaard turned to Sattgast, currently our state’s most experienced constitutional officer, having been termed out of office as Auditor before assuming the position of State Treasurer where he is now starting his second term.
Commissioner Gary Hansen noted to Sattagst that while people have recused themselves from portions of proceedings before, this is the first time in modern history that due to the extensive nature of the hearings needed, the PUC believed that a suitable replacement for Fiegen in the hearings should be named by the Governor to step in and serve as the third commissioner.
Sattgast was on hand for two meetings yesterday in Bowdle and Redfield. Today, he’s serving with the commission at a meeting in Iroquois this morning, and in Sioux Falls tonight.
I asked Rich about his new experience, and he noted “It’s certainly an honor to have been asked to serve in this capacity. We’ve only been to two communities so far, and it’s been very interesting to hear from people from both sides of the issue. I look forward to performing the duties of commissioner, and doing what’s best for all involved and the State of South Dakota.”
The appointment from the Governor is an official appointment filed with the Secretary of State, and requires Sattgast to provide financial disclosure to avoid any potential conflicts of his own while doing double duty for South Dakota’s taxpayers.
During his limited tenure on the commission, those taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. Despite the additional duties as a constitutional officer, Sattgast is only allowed to receive his official salary for State Treasurer.
I did ask Sattgast if there was any chance he’d consider running for a full term on the PUC himself? Rich politely demurred from answering my leading question. And noted “he enjoys being State Treasurer.”
And In case you’re interested in the documents that made it happen…